The Wikipedia article on John Wilkes Booth has a few paragraphs on the theories that he escaped, such as:

In 1907, Finis L. Bates wrote Escape and Suicide of John Wilkes Booth, contending that a Booth look-alike was mistakenly killed at the Garrett farm while Booth eluded his pursuers.[165] Booth, said Bates, assumed the pseudonym "John St. Helen" and settled on the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas, and later moved to Granbury, Texas.

There is also an entire TV episode on this theory. However, this seems questionable, considering the History Channel's reputation for overly-dramatized theories with little credibility.

Books, such as The Escape and suicide of John Wilkes Booth and John Wilkes Booth : beyond the grave, have been written about the subject, which are somewhat more believable.

Is the theory of Booth's escape past the Garrett barn plausible or are there irreconcilable problems with the theory?


Per Dr. Blaine Houmes M.D., from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, "One of the greatest myths or misunderstandings is that John Wilkes Booth actually escaped and lived and died years later. He was supposedly spotted in multiple countries and multiple parts of the United States. The most notable example was the alcoholic housepainter in Enid, Oklahoma, by the name of David E. George, who committed suicide by strychnine poisoning in 1903. Luckily I was able to bring some light on that case by discovering the X-rays of his ankle taken during a supposed autopsy of his body in 1931 in Chicago. The X-rays clearly showed that he had no healed fracture of the ankle, and without a broken ankle, it couldn't have been John Wilkes Booth. Booth had a closed fracture of the left fibula, and at that time the treatment of choice for a simple bone fracture, which this was (it did not penetrate the skin) was splinting it in as close to normal anatomical position as possible. Casting material wasn't available in a sophisticated form like we know it today. Dr. Mudd made Booth a fine splint and some crutches."

Witnesses to the death of John Wilkes Booth

A number of witnesses were called to identify the body and several people who knew Booth personally positively identified the body which was exhausted and unwell from 12 days of riding, rowing, and hiding in undergrowth.

  1. Dr. John Frederick May who had removed a large fibroid tumor from Booth's neck some time prior to the assassination. Dr. May found a scar from his operation on the corpse's neck exactly where it should have been.

  2. Booth's dentist, Dr. William Merrill, who had filled two teeth for Booth shortly before the assassination, who then pried open the corpse's mouth and positively identified his fillings.

  3. Charles Dawson, the clerk at the National Hotel where Booth was staying, examined the remains, saying "I distinctly recognize it as the body of J. Wilkes Booth - first, from the general appearance, next, from the India-ink letters, 'J.W.B.,' on his wrist, which I had very frequently noticed, and then by a scar on the neck. I also recognize the vest as that of J. Wilkes Booth." since as a boy Booth had his initials indelibly tattooed on the back of his left hand between his thumb and forefinger.

  4. Seaton Munroe, a prominent Washington attorney who knew Booth, viewed the body and said that he "was very familiar with his (Booth's) face and distinctly recognize it."

  5. Alexander Gardner, a well-known famed Washington Civil War photographer, and his assistant, Timothy H. O'Sullivan, were also among those called to the Montauk to identify Booth's corpse. On April 27, 1865, many experts agree, Alexander Gardner and his assistant Timothy O’Sullivan took the picture of Booth’s corpse and the picture hasn’t been seen since, and its current whereabouts are unknown.

  6. Surgeon General Joseph K. Barnes, Dr. Joseph Janvier Woodward, and Dr. George Brainard Todd who performed John Wilkes Booth's autopsy aboard the Montauk.

  7. Rev. R.B. Garrett son of Richard H. Garrett eye witness of the death of John Wilkes Booth as described here.

  8. Members of the Booth family, mother of John Wilkes Booth Mrs. Junius Brutus Booth, sister Mrs. Asia Booth Clarke, and his brother Dr. Joseph A. Booth mentioned here.

  9. William L. Ballahuff, stage carpenter.

  10. Dr. J.R.W. Dunbar of Baltimore who was previously permitted to examine the body of George Washington.

  11. Lieutenant Edward Doherty's account mentioned here.

Per Dr. Edward Steers, Jr. in The Escape & Capture of John Wilkes Booth, "All the evidence to date suggests that he (Corbett) was in the right position at the right time, and he acted from the belief that he was doing exactly what was expected of a soldier facing the enemy."

"Booth's corpse was then taken to Baltimore for burial and was positively identified by many people including John T. Ford, Henry Clay Ford, and several members of the Booth family. The body was buried in the Booth family plot in Green Mount Cemetery in Baltimore on Saturday, June 26, 1869. John Wilkes Booth's individual grave is unmarked at the request of the Booth family. Booth's third, fourth, and fifth cervical vertebrae, which were removed during his autopsy, are housed at the National Museum of Health and Medicine at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center. An additional fragment from Booth's autopsy (tissue possibly cleaned off the cervical vertebrae) is in a bottle in the Mütter Medical Museum of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia."

In October 1994 a petition was filed in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City to exhume John Wilkes Booth’s remains from Green Mount Cemetery since cervical specimen DNA could be compared with Edwin Booth's DNA retrieved from his grave in Cambridge which is the best way to determine whether Booth or someone else was killed. "The petitioners were people who identified themselves as Booth’s relatives. The cemetery argued that its solemn duty was to protect the sanctity of those interred unless there was overwhelming evidence that the body buried there was not Booth’s. Judge Joseph H.H. Kaplan ruled that the evidence for exhumation was insufficient. The Court of Special Appeals in Annapolis upheld his 1996 decision."

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